It's almost Halloween -- and all those ghosts, goblins, tricks and treats are giving Hans Kohler the creeps.

So the mayor of Rankweil, a town near the Swiss border , launched a campaign disparaging Halloween and urging families to skip it this year

"It's an American custom that's got nothing to do with our culture," Kohler wrote in letters sent to households. By midweek, the mayors of eight neighboring villages had thrown their support behind the boycott. So had local police, annoyed with the annual Oct. 31 jump in vandalism and mischief.

Although Halloween has become popular across Europe -- complete with carved pumpkins and costumed children rushing door-to-door for candy -- it's begun to breed a backlash.

Critics see it as the epitome of crass, U.S.-style commercialism. Clerics and conservatives contend it clashes with the spirit of traditional Nov. 1 All Saints' Day remembrances.

And it has purists in countries struggling to retain a sense of uniqueness in Europe's melting pot grimacing like jack-o'-lanterns.

Halloween "undermines our cultural identity," said the Rev. Giordano Frosini, a Roman Catholic theologian who serves as vicar-general in the Diocese of Pistoia near Florence, Italy.

Frosini denounced the holiday as a "manifestation of neo-paganism" and an expression of American cultural supremacy. "Pumpkins show their emptiness," he said.

To be sure, Halloween is big business in Europe.

Germans reportedly spend nearly $170 million, on Halloween costumes, sweets, decorations and parties each year. The holiday has become popular in Romania, home to the Dracula myth, where discos throw parties with bat and vampire themes.

In Britain, where Halloween celebrations rival those in the United States, it's the most lucrative day of the year for some costume and party retailers.

"Without Halloween, I don't think we could exist, to be honest," said Pendra Maisuria, owner of Escapade, a London costume shop that rakes in 30 percent of its annual sales in the run-up to the holiday.

But not everyone takes such a carefree approach toward the holiday.

In Austria, where many families get a government child allowance, Othmar Berbig had this to say: "Parents who abuse it to buy Halloween plunder for their kids should be forced to pay back the aid."

In Sweden, where Halloween's popularity has increased, so have views of the holiday as an "unnecessary, bad American custom," said Bodil Nildin-Wall, at the Language and Folklore Institute in Uppsala.

Italy's Papaboys, a group of pope devotees , urged Christians not to take part in "a party in honor of Satan and hell."

Don't take it so seriously, counters Gerald Faschingeder, who heads a Roman Catholic youth alliance in Austria. He sees nothing particularly evil about glow-in-the-dark skeletons, plastic fangs and fake blood.

"It's a chance for girls and boys to disguise themselves and have some fun away from loud and demanding adults," Faschingeder said. "For one evening, at least, kids can feel more powerful than grown-ups."

Europeans are spending millions on Halloween costumes and decorations as they defy the critics who condemn the celebration as crass American commercialism.